The first two volumes of the Buster Keaton collection, following the release of a fantastic documentary to remind us all why he was such an icon of the silent comedy era, included some of the slapstick star’s most recognizable titles. The first one included The General, while the second featured Sherlock Jr. as headliner. While neither of the titles in Volume Three carry the same historical significance, it does include one of Keaton’s personal favorites and another with an unforgettable premise. Even if these aren’t the most famous of Keaton’s films, they are every bit as memorable as the ones in Volumes 1 and 2.
The first in the double-feature presentation is Seven Chances, which was based upon a popular Broadway show about a man in need of getting married by the end of the day in order to earn his inheritance. Over the course of the day, he scrambles to find anyone who will marry him once his girlfriend turns him down. The film lent itself to Keaton’s ability to raise the stakes from one sequence to the next. And his propensity for large numbers of extras to follow him reached new heights as a crowd of hopeful brides chased him through the film, leading to an even more impressive sequence with him running from a stampede of rocks rolling down a hill on his heels.
Ironically, although the second film in this collection is said to be one of Keaton’s favorites, he is said to have disliked Seven Chances. This may have to do with the fact that he was basically pushed into making the film because of its stage success. Personally, as much as I find certain gags to be among his most innovative, there are a number of jokes that rely on an unsavory bit of gender and racial stereotyping that has not aged well. Along with a gag about a famous drag queen, there are instances where race and/or religion alone are enough for Buster to rule a woman out as a marital choice.
Battling Butler is the second film in the collection, and a far less controversial one. The first section of the film is my favorite, as Keaton’s spoiled rich character lavishly goes on a camping trip with his male servant. The attempts to rough it in luxury as well as many misguided efforts at hunting and fishing are filled with memorable gags. Unfortunately, for me the film begins to lose momentum when it gets to the main storyline, which involves a boxer sharing the same name, resulting in a mistaken identity that Keaton’s character uses to get closer to a woman he meets while camping.
Forced to train as a boxer in order to keep the illusion up for the woman he has been wooing, Keaton loses some opportunities for slapstick in order to actual appear capable. While there are a few great gags involving his attempts to get into the ring, I will always choose Charlie Chaplin’s boxing sequences in City Lights over these, but fortunately the film has much more than boxing to offer. And part of the problem might be that while both films feature a character deceiving the woman they love, Chaplin’s does it selflessly, while Keaton’s
is only trying to save face. Butler
It might simply come down to a difference in presentation of class, with the lower class being presented far more sympathetically. I find it interesting that both of the films included in this collection feature Keaton as a member of the elite upper class, in direct contrast with his working-class and tramp-like slapstick colleagues. This wasn’t always the case, but there are many famous Keaton films where he seemed to represent (and simultaneously criticize) the wealthiest members of American society, and two of the most recognizable were included in this volume of the collection.
The Blu-ray release comes with new restorations of both films, as well as new scores that are perfectly suited for the films. These restorations have trailers as well, but the only really significant extra is a brief featurette about Keaton’s stunt-work.
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 9.5/10
Historical Significance: 10/10
Special Features: 3/10